The old man continued to sit, unmoving as he had been for hours, on the riverbank
. A mosquito
would trundle by from time to time, land on him, feed, fly away. He paid them no mind
, for he begrudged them nothing. And in much the same way, a person would trundle by from time to time, seeking to feed on a different part of him. "Wise one
," they would invariably beseech, or "great one
," sometimes "master
." He used to correct them, carefully insisted that he was no wiser than anyone else and might well be less so, but even so was surely no greater, and neither was nor wished to be any man's master. But he no longer pressed such points; he simply answered questions -- though he found most queries posed to him to be answerable with queries as well, a different sort of question, one which simply focused the search of the asker on that which they truly sought, perhaps without knowing it, or on that which they truly ought to be seeking. So many men in such a rush, with such doubt, with such fear; when truly even a short life bereft of fear was a greater treasure
than a hundred years of cowardice.
Sometimes men would come not to seek advice, but to challenge
him, to pose riddles
, to promote their own brand of religion
. He avoided those arguments
; it mattered not to him, and so he would tell those amongst his visitors
bearing such agendas. He wished them well in whatever their beliefs might be, and returned to his meditation
One day a poet
came to see him. The poet was content, for he saw poetry in all things. He did not seek advice, did not wish to persuade the old man to one view or the next. He had heard that the old man was helpful to many, and simply wished to bestow a kindness through his gift of poetry. He had asked if he might recite some, and the old man was pleased to invite the poet to do so; and so he did. He captured, in his poetry, the unending flow of the river, the delicacy of the bird's song, the wonder of a child's looking upon things which it would later forget held wonder. The old man's eyes were closed, but he slept not, for he listened, and he was at peace. At last, the poet asked but one thing: "how might I become like you, so far at peace
with all things?"
The old man breathed deeply in and deeply out several times, and then asked, "friend poet, what is the answer to the riddle of poetry?" The poet sat beside the old man and pondered this query; he sat in thought for a very long time; and at last a broad and peaceful smile crept across his face.
Some years passed. The poet returned from time to time to see the old man. Sometimes they spoke. Sometimes they simply sat and listened to the river as it passed on its way. And then, one day, the old man was not there. The poet reflected, perhaps the old man had died. For it had been many years since their first exchange, and even the poet was no longer so young a man. If the old man had died, then so be it, for that was the way of the world. The poet sat beside the river and reflected upon the lessons he had learned, from the old man, from life, from the river and the songs of the birds and the wonderment of children.
Presently, a young man happened by. "Pardon me," the young man began, "are you the wise one?"
"Oh, I am no wiser than any other man," replied the poet.
"You must be the man I seek, for I was told you might claim as much. May I ask your advice?"
The poet saw that the young man was burdened with concerns. Possibly, he was weighted down with the same sorts of things which encumber many men needlessly, and perhaps his burden could be lifted if he was able to see the needlessness of it. And so, the poet nodded. And they began to speak.
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